Grinding a bike up a steep hill, or feeling it flow down a steep hill, takes some courage.
And catching a wave, easing into a kayak or even pitching a tent is intimidating for newbies.
But learning to identify birds, especially when you’re in a crowd of birding junkies, is one of the most gut-clenching moments in the outdoors.
Hardcore birders carry high-tech binoculars and spotting scopes, spout arcane lingo and can name birds just by hearing their calls and songs.
Those experts make birding seem like something that calls for a master’s degree, a few thousand bucks and a shelf full of dense books that delve deeply into bird eye lines, eye rings and eye stripes.
It all seems like a great chance to make a fool out of yourself. I’ve stood on the Sandpiper Trail boardwalk at the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and listened to birders discuss – in the hushed tones of medical doctors in a hallway consultation – the bill shapes, juvenile feather colors and leg length in shorebirds.
I didn’t have much to add to the conversation, but I did have a good time finding birds and looking them up in one of my birding books.
Birding isn’t the expensive, brain-twisting pastime that it appears – at least it doesn’t have to be.
Sure, there is the lingo – which can be as complex and confusing as American football to those members of the planet who didn’t grow up in the United States.
But you don’t have to know every little detail about bird anatomy to identify most birds. All you have to do is get a good bird identification book, a decent pair of binoculars and the patience to sit on a rock and look up what you see.
Sure, it’s a slow way to identify birds, but it’s a lot like being a fourth grader and reading a book more than 50 pages long. I remember coming across words I didn’t understand.
I recall asking Mrs. Brill – a wonderful, wonderful teacher who recognized me as a fellow bookworm on the first day of fourth grade way, way back in 1970 – what the word “continent” meant.
Mrs. Brill looked at me over her glasses and then pointed to the massive dictionary that stood on a stand next to the pencil sharpener.
“Look it up, Mr. Allen,” she said with a sneaky smile. “And then write it down.”
It’s nerdy to admit this, but I grew to love the walk across the creaky classroom floor to the dictionary stand, which always carried the nose-tingling odors of book glue, dust and cedar shavings from the pencil sharpener.
Looking things up on your own is a good way to learn anything. And, with birding, the process carries the same sense of discovery – even adventure – that I found while opening the dictionary.
But it’s also a good idea to take a class, especially a class from the Black Hills Audubon Society, which is a friendly bunch of birders.
If you have Monday evenings free on Oct. 12, 19, 26 and Nov. 2, why not sign up for the Black Hills beginning birding class, which meets at the Olympia Center from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The class costs $45, which includes local birding expert Burt Guttman’s “Finding Your Wings,” a wonderful birding manual. The class also includes two field trips. All this is a screaming deal and will make the world of bird-watching lots of fun from the very start.
For more information, call 360-352-0075 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we all know that any outdoor sport is fun – once you get past that first glide down the snow, tent rain fly or Northern Flicker visiting a suet feeder.
Chester Allen: 360-754-4226